World Wildlife Fund Sustainability Works

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Sustainable Leather Sourcing: From Ambition to Action

  • Date: 03 November 2023
  • Author: Fernando Bellese, Senior Director for Beef and Leather Supply Chains, WWF

Leather is a byproduct of beef production, but increasingly consumers of leather are calling for leather manufacturers to help ensure that hides they process are sustainably sourced — not coming from cattle raised on land that was deforested and converted to pasture, but rather supporting biodiversity and reduction in food sector emissions.

Cattle ranching is the major driver of deforestation in Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina, where millions of hectares of forest are cleared each year to make way for new pastures. The beef (and therefore leather) industry also contributes indirectly to deforestation through its supply chain.

Leather companies have begun to organize their efforts and manage their supply chains to combat deforestation. Last week, at the annual Textile Exchange conference in London, World Wildlife Fund, Textile Exchange and Leather Working Group launched the Call to Action Working Group, a collection of consumer brands, including fashion, retail, and automobile companies, that are striving to eliminate leather from their supply chains that is produced from cattle raised on recently deforested areas.

The Call to Action Working Group is an offshoot of the Deforestation-Free Call to Action for Leather, co-led by the three organizations. The Call to Action is a cross-sector initiative aimed at galvanizing action from brands to end the deforestation and conversion of natural ecosystems linked to cattle and hides. In doing so, it looks to protect wildlife habitat and biodiversity, preserve carbon stocks to mitigate climate change, and protect human rights.

The Call to Action Working Group will support companies through a collective effort to identify common challenges and approaches that accelerate the implementation of deforestation- and conversion-free (DCF) leather supply chains.

In the initial meeting in London, participating companies began to discuss alternative means of achieving traceability and supplier engagement, to improve transparency and promote better practices on-farm.

Cattle supply chains are long and fairly opaque. Animals often move through several farms between birth and slaughter, making it hard to trace their origins and credibly verify the entire supply chain’s full compliance.

By providing better visibility into their complex supply chains, leather companies and brands help to ensure that the responsibility of investing in the protection of forests and ecosystems is shared more equitably across the entire supply chain. This improves communication between brands and their supply-chain partners and rewards DCF practices.

With initial support from the Moore Foundation and an additional grant from the Tapestry Foundation, World Wildlife Fund is working with brands and tanneries in Brazil to develop DCF sources of hides, catalyzing efforts to ensure that hides do not originate from land that has been recently deforested. The idea is to connect those current and future projects with the Call to Action Working Group and support the participating companies in addressing some of the common challenges identified.

Speaking about the importance of working collectively, Julia Furnari, Executive Director of the Tapestry Foundation, pointed out the significant role philanthropy can play in supporting DCF leather supply chains. She encouraged the companies present to consider coupling their corporate commitments and supply-chain investments with philanthropic dollars to work together to advance the DCF leather agenda at speed and scale.

“At Tapestry we are using philanthropy as an innovative way to create change for the leather industry at large, by implementing pilots to test and learn about paths forward for traceability, by investing in communities that are leading reforestation efforts in Brazil,” she said. “We are two years into a four-year program that is addressing these issues holistically and collaboratively.”

The Call to Action Working Group is formed of companies that have already signed the Deforestation-Free Call to Action for Leather as well as other businesses that are engaged with the leading organizations in the Call to Action and committed to the implementation of DCF supply chains.

The benefits of Working Group membership include participation in exclusive seminars and discussions on topics related to the development of DCF supply chains, access to the latest information about current initiatives, and opportunities for collaboration in developing and implementing meaningful actions for the creation of more responsible, resilient leather supply chains.

If your consumer brand is interested in joining the Call to Action, please contact [email protected] or contact WWF at [email protected] to learn more about our projects.